Menhaden are critical to a healthy and balanced coastal ecosystem.
Reduced menhaden populations impact the abundance and diversity of predator populations. Ecological reference points (ERPs) are needed to maintain a larger population, which means not only more food in the water for predators but also more robust East Coast fisheries, sport and commercial.
The striped bass is just one of the many predators whose numbers are directly linked to the abundance of menhaden.
A brand new study out of the University of Maryland validates what anglers know full well — the health of the striper population is directly linked to the abundance of menhaden. Fewer menhaden in the water mean fewer striped bass. And it's not just a fish-eat-fish world. The diets of many seabirds on the Atlantic coast are predominantly menhaden, according to the Audubon Society. For the osprey, for example, menhaden make up 75 to 100 percent of their diet, depending on the time of year.
The public is supporting ERP Option E — "The 75 percent Solution" — because it's the best available science and it's ready to be implemented in 2018.
The 2015 Wild Oceans report, Resource Sharing: The Berkeley Criterion, revealed a remarkable consensus among fisheries scientists from around the world that setting a target population of 75 percent of the virgin biomass is a good "rule of thumb" for key forage species because it reduces the impact on predators by about half (compared to conventional targets) while still allowing reasonable yields to the fisheries. (The current menhaden population, according to an updated assessment this year, is at 47 percent of the unfished level.) A letter to ASMFC signed by 117 scientists endorsed Option E.
Option E allows for work to continue on the development of menhaden-specific ecosystem models, but waiting years until they are usable — the industry's preferred option — is unnecessary and extremely risky.
Even if these new, complex and untested models turn out to produce usable guidance for meeting the ASMFC's ecosystem objectives, they likely could not be implemented before the 2022 fishing season. Meanwhile, the prospect of the fishery being managed another five years or more using the current, single-species reference points, which could allow for a more than 50 percent increase over current catch levels, could mean the loss of the growth in the menhaden stock and in its coastal range that we've seen in recent years.
- The menhaden industry does not own the resource. It belongs to all of us.
We enjoy the fisheries that menhaden support, directly and indirectly, value the wildlife it sustains, and benefit socially and economically from a healthy and diverse ocean environment. The public pays the costs of management — from stock assessments and all the science that goes into them to fisheries regulation, monitoring and enforcement. The ASMFC has a responsibility to manage and conserve menhaden for the greatest benefit to the nation as a whole.